The overall health of children in La Plata County has slipped slightly, according to recently released data from the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
Compared with 25 other counties, La Plata County stacked up in the middle at 11th, but it dropped two spots from last year.
“It doesn’t appear as if there was one dramatic change ... more so that things got slightly worse across several different areas,” said Sarah Hughes, research director with the campaign.
The Children’s Campaign has been releasing Kids Count, a look at the health factors for kids around the state, for 22 years.
La Plata County children are not faring as well across eight of the 12 statistics used to measure health. Some areas where the county fell short included: the rate of uninsured children, teen birth rates and the percentage of families relying on low-cost food, she said.
However, the outlook for children in the county may be significantly brighter than the numbers suggest because some of the numbers are 2 years old.
In 2013, almost 20 percent of the children in the county were uninsured, but that percentage likely has been halved after the expansion of Medicaid and the implementation of Affordable Care Act, said Liane Jollon, executive director of the San Juan Basin Health Department.
Ensuring that more people have insurance allows the health department to focus on tackling social issues, such as access to healthful food, that influence health, she said.
“You can’t get to the other pieces if you don’t have folks with insurance,” she said.
In addition, the campaign’s data show the teen birth rate crept up from 2012 to 2013 from 18.3 births per 1,000 to 18.7 per 1,000. However, since 2009, the teen birth rates locally have fallen about 35 percent, which is in line with the decline seen across the state, Jollon said.
This is a great success for public health because it naturally reduces the overall number of unintended pregnancies, she said.
“Planned children do have higher likelihood of health and socio-economic success,” Jollon said
However, some social factors that contribute to health and obesity rates do concern Jollon and other health advocates.
About 15 percent of La Plata County children live in poverty; across Colorado’s rural counties, about 23 percent of children live in poverty.
While La Plata is doing better than its peers, that’s not comforting to children who don’t have enough to eat at home, said Sarah Wilhelm, an economist and advocate with the local It’s About Kids Committee.
“We’ve got children in this community that are suffering and not being allowed to achieve their potential,” she said.
Those who struggle to make ends meet also are more likely to rely on low-cost foods, which are likely to be highly processed and not as nutritious, said Eileen Wasserbach, also involved with the It’s About Kids Committee. The percentage of financially struggling families increased from 33 percent in 2012 to 35 percent in 2013.
Some steps already have been taken to try to help families acquire higher quality food, including allowing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program vouchers at the farmers market, Wasserbach said.
Obesity is an ongoing concern for advocates, and local rates are higher than one would expect given that Colorado was the nation’s fittest state in 2013, according to a Gallup survey.
The obesity rate among La Plata County’s children dropped from 28 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2013, which is on par with the state level of obesity.
Colorado’s obesity rate gradually is rising, but it is about 10 years behind states with some of the highest rates of obesity, Jollon said.
“Colorado is on the trajectory, just behind the curve,” she said.
However, the state does have the opportunity to work on interventions. Locally, the health department has introduced an after-school program to help encourage active lifestyles. However, a highly effective intervention for childhood obesity has not yet been found, she said.